126: Resolving Tricky Behaviors, with Andrew Fuller

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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A child who exhibits challenging or tricky behaviors has a different way of moving through and coping with the world. The key is to understand the neurological reasons for the behaviors and to address behaviors in a habitual way.

Clinical psychologist, Andrew Fuller, developed a system called R.E.S.O.L.V.E. to do just that and shares the steps in this episode. While challenging behavior may feel like the norm for your child, you must make it abnormal, and always approach it as “our problem” not your (the child’s) problem. 


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My Guest

Andrew Fuller

Andrew has been a principal consultant to Australia’s national drug prevention strategy REDI, the ABC on children’s television shows, is an Ambassador for Mind Matters and is a member of the National Coalition Against Bullying. He is the author of numerous books including Tricky Behaviors: Managing Challenging and Confronting Children While Staying Sane!, and Your Best Life at Any Age.

Andrew has established programs for the promotion of mental health in schools, substance abuse prevention, and the reduction of violence and bullying, suicide prevention programs and for assisting homeless young people. Andrew continues to counsel young people.



Intro (00:03): Well, the things that I observe with these children with these families is that they're very impactful. They do the same stuff in the same way over and over again. And what's interesting to me as a psychologist, see if I can change even one element of that pattern or that dance. I changed the entire day.

Penny Williams (00:28): Welcome to the parenting ADHD podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author ADHD, a highlight and mindset. Mama honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. I am really excited today to be talking to clinical psychologist, Andrew Fuller out of Australia. And we're going to talk about resolving tricky behaviors, a very, very good topic for our listeners here of parents, of kids with ADHD. Thanks for being here and sharing some of your time with us. Andrew, will you start by introducing yourself? Let everyone know who you are and what you do.

Andrew Fuller (01:27): Hey, hi, I'm Andrew Fuller. I'm a clinical psychologist. And I started out my work in psychiatric crisis teams, watching people who are in darkest hours of their lives, and really try to think about how to stop people, getting to those points in their life. And so that then led me to really thinking about how to work with young people differently in order to create greater change in their lives and more resilient outcomes for them. So it's been an exciting journey.

Penny Williams (01:56): Absolutely. Yeah. And such good work so needed. Let's talk, I think first about defining what you mean by tricky behaviors.

Andrew Fuller (02:06): Yeah. There's a lot of them around you though. So, so I guess everybody, everybody can be a bit tricky at times. That's, that's, let's face it. So however, there are people and kids, particularly who are perennially tricky. And so I often think about particularly young people at the bit like belly buttons, penny, that basically there, there are the unis and the out is, that there are, there are kids that basically at any is, and nobody really knows they're tricky. They're kind of having all this distress on the inside and nobody really knows what's going on for them. And then there's the at-ease and everybody knows, everybody knows. And they're both lovely sorts of kids. They've both got their strengths, but they really are people who can drive parents a bit Witless, I think at times and teachers, well, to be honest and sometimes themselves. So they're the ones that I love to work with.

Penny Williams (03:05): Yeah. And really kids with ADHD can be either one and he's or Audis, depending on the sort of constellation of symptoms that they have. So I know you talk in your, in your book and in your work about the misconception that people usually have in dealing with Turkey behaviors. Do you want to tell us what that number one misconception is?

Andrew Fuller (03:28): The number one misconception is that these kids are necessarily troubled. And I think it's a really interesting thing to think about that while certainly we have a realm of behaviors that we find acceptable and unacceptable. These are young people who've learned or acquire different ways of coping with the world. And often it's very adaptive what they've done. And so when you sit down and talk to them and figure out what's really going on for them, they have quite a strong coping mechanism for the world. Now, whether the world has quite a strong look, coping mechanism for them can be a different matter, but then they are strong, resilient, young people. There are people who are ready to survive and thrive in the world. And so one of the things we have to help them to do is to do that in ways that other people are going to appreciate it.

Penny Williams (04:24): Yeah, absolutely. And that's a big piece of what I talk about with parents of kids with ADHD is that we have to figure out their way of moving through the world, what their experience is like their strengths and weaknesses and build off of that. Sometimes they don't fit, but they don't need to fit either.

Andrew Fuller (04:45): Yeah, I think that's right. Penny. I think that we live in a world that is more and more aware of neuro-diversity. And we often think about neuro diversity as if it's about this special group of people, but actually we're all neuro diverse. We all have different brains. And so the need for us to think more richly and more deeply about how to bring out the potential that every child I think is something that schools and certainly parents have to do more of to really bring to the, for their kids. Great lives.

Penny Williams (05:17): Yeah. I love that. You said we're all neurodiverse because we really do all have our own set of strengths and weaknesses. No, one's perfect. And it's a really, really powerful message for our kids who are different too, to have to know that they're not the only one and we all have different challenges as we go through life.

Andrew Fuller (05:38): Yeah. So many kids basically label themselves as bad or lazy or worthless and or not smart. And that's just not true. That's just a infect as a tragedy, really to see a young person. And I see many of them in my therapy room who think they have no contribution, they have no real smarts about. And when we basically find their learning strengths and I do that, not through the book, but through a website called my lending strengths.com that people can go on and have a look at. And that's kind of cool. They get afraid letter that says, they are really smart or something and it sort of analyzes their learning strengths. And that really becomes the starting point for them thinking about, in what way they're smart. Not whether they're smart in what way they're smart.

Penny Williams (06:24): Mm. I love that. Such a good resource too. Getting back to tricky behaviors. I know that you say that they often grow up to be the movers and shakers of the world. Why do you say that

Andrew Fuller (06:36): These kids are going to look it up and go, they've got, they've got that. They've got the merger, they've got the determination. They're young people. Who've kinda figured out a way of overcoming whatever pitfalls they've had. They're basically going to get their needs met, whatever happens now, sometimes that can be destructive. So we've got to be careful about that, but at the same time, they are the young people who will push upon the rule book in life. So they're going to threaten the status quo as I think the younger generation should always do by the way. But I think this group of young people are particularly there because they're not going to be content to say, well, just because schooling's always been this way. We'll just because family rules have always been this way. I'll just comply. They're going to go no to hell with that. I'm going to basically make my own rules. I'm going to set it up in a different way. And I, I don't know about you penny, but I think the world could do with the real shaking up.

Penny Williams (07:42): Absolutely. Absolutely. And we see so many entrepreneurs I know here in the United States who have ADHD, they they're the risk takers. They're the go getters. They have the energy and the stamina to kind of go after something and build something. And it's, it's really amazing. You know, there's so many strengths there within the differences as well.

Andrew Fuller (08:07): Yes. And sometimes they're blind them and sometimes their parents become blind to them because of course managing them and helping to raise them can be exhausting. There's no doubt about that. And so you can sometimes then lose sight of their strengths along the way. And that's a, that's a great shame as we've said. So these kids basically have an inner fire and a genius. I think that won't be quelled really. But it's one that we need to capitalize on.

Penny Williams (08:33): Yeah. Yeah. So let's talk about the chaos of tricky behaviors and what parents can do. You know, we, we struggle with kids who are emotionally intense, who struggle with self-regulation, who have way more energy than we do my son when he was younger by, a couple hours into the morning, I was absolutely exhausted because he never stopped, ever stopped and was always looking for something of interest and something of challenge and something new. He just had that curiosity in addition to that hyper activity. So it can be completely chaotic and exhausting, but we still have to work on behavior. Right. We still have to set boundaries. We still have to help them with what they're struggling with. So how do we sort of get started with that? What, what I would imagine it's a mindset first for parents.

Andrew Fuller (09:29): Yes. Thank you. But penny, I think it's a really good question. That's after many, many years of research and trial and error, I came up with an acronym called resolve and resolve really is the system that I try to work with parents to go through because basically we need to have some structure to the way that we approached these kids, their, their drama, their dramatics, their challenges can be so great that they wear down their parents. And so unless there's a structure to keep in mind, you end up being very erratic in your parenting. And of course these kids don't respond to that kind of unpredictability very well. It can be dramatic, but it's not going to be productive. And so resolve the first part of it is basically to respond with respect and really that's about trying to help parents to remain with that fine art of equanimity.

Andrew Fuller (10:30): So rather than waiting until you feel upset or angry or irritated, you're trying to be front footed about it and to respond respectfully. And I suppose the point here is that we can't model alternative ways of behaving if we're modeling bad behavior. So clearly it's being almost hyper respectful about issues. Now, that response is interesting to think about because there's a couple of things in our path there it's about owning that we have a problem. So rather than you have a problem, we have a problem. So I, I call it, drop the wives. So drop the wife from your, and you end up with our, so basically it's our problem. And the other thing I think is important to think about here, and I it's really important is that you don't have to engage in every battle that you're invited to as a parent. Yes.

Andrew Fuller (11:27): Yeah. These kids are so dynamic. They're going to offer all sorts of challenges to your parenting. And I think it's important to say, well, okay. Yes, yes I do. In normal circumstances, a good parent in an Indian here in quotation marks would be basically responding to all of this stuff that simply as that's not possible. And so you've got to then think strategically about which parts I can come there respond and which times it's not worth responding at all. So some things have to have to be almost ignored to some extent. So it's not easy to do because, I think that kids have more energy to put into any battle than any adult ever does. And so if you're not strategic in, what's truly important, you'll just wear yourself ragged and that's no use to anybody. The second part of resolve is engaged and that's basically being prepared to rather than wait, because of course, these kids are good at building up a level of energy in their family where they're, irresistibly demanding intention.

Andrew Fuller (12:34): So rather than waiting for them to demand your attention, you have to be prepared to be on the front foot and engage in what's going on for you. What's happening here was in trying to work out, basically what's going on at that particular point. So that rather than allowing them, because they can repeatedly go on and on and on about a particular issue and rather than waiting to build up the data so that the message for them becomes that the age to become almost like a nagger and basically go at you within. And she'll basically I get your attention. So in this situation, what we're trying to do is be much more front foot proactive, proactive that's right. So respond with respect and then engage and the next part space to be seeking understanding. Now, this is a really important part of it because of course, one of the things that's we want to do in a family, in any family, but in families with these children, especially is to make misbehavior the abnormal state, not the normal state, because if it's the normal state, of course, the family is held to living in, right?

Andrew Fuller (13:47): And so it's gotta be the abnormal state. And what that requires in a family is a shift in language. And the shift is from why to what? Now? Of course, we'll all still use the word Y but when we use the word, why a lot, it becomes a bit interrogative. Why don't you do that? Why aren't you ready on time? Why did you hit your sister and so on? And okay, we'll all do some of that. But instead of doing that, sometimes we want to stop and say to a child what's going on here. What's happening? Are you okay? What's happening. You're not, don't be like, this is what's going on. Fear. And then I use the acronym Holtz, which I'm sure you've come across that basically. Are you home? Are you, are you angry? Are you lonely? Are you tired? Are you stressed? And so just going through and asking a child, are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired, stressed, or even just thinking it to yourself. So even if you don't ask your child basically gives you a more considered response. So what's going on behind the behavior that might be causing this disruption.

Penny Williams (14:58): Yeah. There's unmet needs.

Andrew Fuller (15:01): Yeah, that's right. And because these are, these are young people that often have learned to express their distress behaviorally so they will become antsy and difficult and tricky and all of that kind of stuff. But basically what sign behind it is one of those unmet needs. So respond with respect, engage, seek, understanding, and observe feelings. It's interesting. When we deal with people that I learned this when I was in psychiatric care teams, that there's sort of, there are peaks and valleys to any distress. So there's, there's times of course, when things are highly energized and then basically it'll start to lower down before it erupts again. And so just watching the pattern of, of young people as they go through that, and anyone who's a parent of your child will basically watch a child sometimes very upset and then they'll start to calm down. And then just as they start to calm down, unless we intervene, they'll rip themselves up again.

Andrew Fuller (16:01): Now I know they'll become kind of frenzied again. And so those valleys between the peaks and the times when we can maybe just move a bit or we can just do something different. So we break out the pattern. So what things that I observe with these children with these families is that they're very patterned. They do the same stuff in the same way over and over again. And what's interesting to me as a psychologist is if I can change even one small element of that pattern or that dance, I changed the entire dance. And so it's just then thinking about, okay, well maybe normally we get closed somewhere in one another's face, and we're kind of having a ROI kind of dispute. Maybe what I should just do is back off and grab something else. Or maybe I should offer them some water or a snack or something in the meantime in the Felly. So you're basically getting a change in situation.

Penny Williams (17:02): Yeah. That's so important. Oh yeah.

Andrew Fuller (17:04): Yeah. And so you, I mean, the person in any situation who has the most power is the person with the most options. And so they want to have the most options at the moment is the parent because the parent can regulate the child. And so if the parent doesn't have more options than the child, we're in big trouble, right? So that means you've got to stay in your bubble, your broad, your range of options. And that might be really simple. It could be going into the kitchen and grabbing something, or I've got to basically pick up something here. I need to move in a different way. So it doesn't have to be major, but it's gotta be some option that you have now, the next part is to lower the time, and this is a really intricate part of it, but it's worse being aware of, because of course, behind much of the behavior, the tricky behaviors of kids, isn't conscious thought what lies behind tricky behaviors are the neurochemicals washing around between the synaptic openings in the brain.

Andrew Fuller (18:10): And so starting to be able to think about neurochemistry as a parent, but it sounds like a bit of a reach, but it actually makes sense when we think about it, it makes a radical difference. And so there are four major neurochemicals that I try to help parents to understand and think about. And there are two that we would like more of. And there are two that we would like less on generally speaking, the first one is dopamine and dobutamine, of course, it's then your, a chemical responsible for motivation. And so it's the party animal of the neurochemical world. And so we liked it for me cause we feel kind of pumped up and ready to go and so on. And so basically what we want to try and do is have a bit more of that. Generally. Now, obviously some dramatic kids can be really pumped up by computer games.

Andrew Fuller (18:58): So we need to find other ways for them to be pumped up as well. So essentially things that basically helped over main to increase feedback rewards recognition acknowledgement, but particularly rhythmic repetitive movements. So sports like handball down, ball volleyball, percussions, swimming, back arena, dancing, all that rhythmic stuff increases Doberman, which is why it's not bad for these kids long term to learn a fairly percussive instrument. They're going to have a musical career. Then basically drumming is not a bad place to begin because really drive some of that energy. Right? the two that, so I'll go to the tree that we don't want so much of it. And then I'll come back to the other one that I want more of the two that we don't want so much of our adrenaline now adrenaline basically makes kids ratting, chatty, and scatty.

Andrew Fuller (20:01): They had motormouths, right? And they just basically, they run off at the mouth and they're just basically, it's like a red quality or high, and essentially what brings that down is repetition and ritual and families, which part of it, don't you. And I've got a whole lot and help with this. It's going to be fun when either eventually cleaning, it's going to be a ride and this is what we're going to do now, it's almost like a fairy kind of plastered. Matter of fact, low drama type of parenting that basically is highly predictable. The other thing brings cortisol down is drinking water so that we know that if I was to give you a glass of water now, and then measuring our blood level of cortisol in 10 minutes time, it would decrease. So lots of kids dehydrated and just bringing their water level up will basically come.

Andrew Fuller (20:55): Essentially of course, as well as adrenaline is cortisol. Now, cortisol X slightly differently. Cortisol's damaging for immune system. So you don't want the parents to be true to a full of cortisol because they'll get sick. But at the same time you want, when you have cortisol, often the language functioning of children is lowered. So they become monosyllabic. They become basically someone, they become harder to engage over anything. So sometimes when you see a, a young person who's high on cortisol, they just can't really express their thoughts. Their memory becomes a feed with, so they, they're not really coherent in terms of what they're doing. And again, it's about safety. This is a time when really it's great to come back to that one question what's going on for you, what's going on. And even though they can't describe it at times, you might be able to go your best guess.

Andrew Fuller (21:52): I think you need a snack now, or you need something you need some time in with me. So generally speaking of course, timing as much more powerful than time out. Absolutely. The last one is serotonin and the most powerful antidepressant, of course now the humankind and that's, that's increased by feedback and acknowledgement recognition, humor, praise, all that kind of stuff basically helps kids to REA and challenges of course, as well. So trying to use that mix a little bit in terms of thinking about what I can do to change this, situation's powerful sometimes giving your kids a challenge, which of course, okay. Computer games is an easy way of getting that challenge with sometimes it's good to sometimes have a discussion where there's a challenge about, well, I bet you can't remember at the time that we did such and such, it's surprisingly effective. Sometimes changing the lighting in the room can also be quite powerful. There's just small things that just make quite a bit, it's interesting with these young people, how patent they are, so that small differences in the parenting root chain will then make major magnitude shifts as well. I find.

Penny Williams (23:08): And that's so encouraging for parents too, to know that there are little things that we can do that will make a powerful impact.

Andrew Fuller (23:16): Yeah. Thank you. I think that the, just understanding that behind the behavior, because of course there's always a risk, isn't there to take the behavior personally, as an attack on you. But to realize that really it's not about conscious thinking, it's about neurochemistry and that's driving. Most of them are behaviors helps you then to free yourself from feeling attacked and basically started to think, how can I change this for this child? How can I make it more familiar for them to be in a calmer, more centered state?

Penny Williams (23:47): Yeah, that's, that's definitely the way that I stay calm as I learned to stop taking it personally, it's not personal. If we look at the intention of our kids, when there's intense behavior, tricky behavior, we can see that more often than not. They're not intending to hurt us. They're not intending to cause harm. They're just really having a hard time in that moment. And then, that helps us to be able to understand and stay calm and then we're lending them our calm we're modeling how to remain calm when something is tricky and difficult.

Andrew Fuller (24:24): Yeah. I think that's a really important point. Any of that, basically what we know is in the, in the prefrontal cortex, there are two major decision-making centers and one sort of just between your eyes or behind there called your orbital prefrontal cortex. And that kind of is the part of your brain that's trying to work out. Can I do it or can't I do it? Is it going or is it stopped up in the upper part of your forehead or behind there is a part of your brain cultural dorsolateral, prefrontal cortex, and that weighs things up. Can I do this? Or what's the, what's the effect of that? If I do that now with these sorts of tricky kids, the orbital prefrontal cortex is often more emphasized than dorsolateral. So can I do it or not is much more powerful than the weighing up stuff.

Andrew Fuller (25:15): Long-Term we want to get them to be able to weigh stuff up, but we can't get there unless we get to that first point. And so, because of that, we realize that the essentially kids are often wanting to know, can I do it or can't I do it. And so there's a tendency then to parent them and say, stop that don't do that. And that's good except that, because these are young people who don't know what else to do, unless we say, instead of doing that, do this, even if they don't do it and starting to model, what's the alternative behaviors so that we need to venue at, which is the and resolve, we need to start to increase their repertoire because long-term, we don't want to always be there doing is. We want to essentially have them with a broader band with the behaviors to engage in.

Andrew Fuller (26:08): And the last part of course is to empower because the long-term aim of managing the behavior of these young people is not for us to manage their behavior for them to manage their behavior as helping themselves slowly learn how to. And it will be gradual. I mean, you cannot expect a young person to learn this overnight. It seems to take a while, but essentially what you're aiming at is to have a young person who sees misbehavior as the abnormal state in the family, not the normal state that basically has a parent who how to calm them down, or at least not join them in their agitation. And then basically has some skills to help them learn a broader repertoire of behaviors and then learns to help them acquire some of those. So that in the future, when the parent's not around necessarily, they've got some skills to draw upon for themselves so that our intro, their drive, their future partners or their work colleagues completely better.

Penny Williams (27:11): Right, right, right. Yeah. This is so, so empowering for parents, this discussion around behavior, and really it's it's top of mind when you have a kid with ADHD, because we're, we're often confounded by the behavior. We don't understand it. Even parents who also have ADHD are often so different from their children who have ADHD. And so, naturally as parents we're drawing on our own experience and we're drawing on what our culture in the families around us are doing and their parenting. And then we get stuck in this place of just really misunderstanding our kids and feeling like we have to change them or fix them to fit, which is absolutely the wrong approach to that. And so, a lot of the work that I do with parents is really diving deep just as you've described on behavior and really understanding where it's coming from in order to change our own mindset and our own ways of approaching it as parents, as parents, we are the ones who really have to make the changes. Our kids are who they are, and we need to honor that and then help them to kind of devise a way to move through the world, being who they are that also affords them success and happiness.

Andrew Fuller (28:39): Yeah. And I'm not for a moment suggesting this is easy for one skerrick of a second. I'm not suggesting that because it really does take some thinking through that because there's a high intensity kids. You can either give them high intensity in terms of anger and drama in their family, or you can find alternative ways of engaging them in really highly intense things. So they, they are passionate young people. And so finding their learning strengths and building on that then gives you a entirely different strategy to work on. And I think over the years, having worked with lots of these families, as I know you have as well, penny, I would say my rule of thumb is if I can get one positive change every six weeks we're doing really well. So you don't try to aim for too much. In fact, if you, if you, if you aim too big or too broad, you'll run in a path. So you've really got to be specific and go, what's the one thing I want to shift in the next six weeks and then focus on that bit. And from there you build it slowly over time and it will come. These kids are actually very smart kids. They're very capable, but we're just going to bring it to the fall.

Penny Williams (30:02): Absolutely. Yeah. Let us know where we can get your book. You, I know you have several bucks, but we're talking mostly about resolving tricky behaviors. Right. And here in the us, I believe we can get it on Amazon.

Andrew Fuller (30:16): Yeah. Tricky behaviors is just out and I will, I hope it's in available in all good book shops, but it's also in Barnes and noble and Amazon as well. So and it's written in a way where hopefully you'll get a few laps as well, because I think we need a few as well along the way. So it's it's sort of seeing some of the situations and plights of other parents. And of course, because I spend a lot of my time doing many, many parents sessions and parents seminars, we get to discuss some of the really interesting examples of behaviors that families just have to contend with. Let's make them scratch their heads and puzzle and wonder why, but that's why I think this has got some real world examples of what goes on from parents and their sorts of Charles' lives.

Penny Williams (31:08): And it helps us to feel not alone can be very isolating to raise a challenging child. You think you're the only one and you're really not

Andrew Fuller (31:18): Genetically to blame you, don't you, it, somehow I create this, what was I doing? You know? But that's right. But, and again, to come back to that earlier point, the big we live in a neuro-diverse world for a reason. And so these are the young people who really had all the get up and go in the mojo to create a shift in the way people do it. And that's not always appreciated in the modern world, but it's an important role living less,

Penny Williams (31:48): Super important. Thank you so much for sharing some of your time and experiences and wisdom with the parents who are listening. Everyone can get a link to Andrew's websites and the books at parentingadhdandautism.com/126 for episode 126. Everything will be in the show notes there. And I do hope that you continue to explore his work, very powerful information for, for all of us and really for all kids. You know, when we, when we approach parenting with compassion and respect, it's good for all kids. Thanks again for being here, Andrew really, really appreciate it. I've enjoyed our conversation.

Andrew Fuller (32:36): Thank you, penny. It's been as a lot for me too.

Penny Williams (32:39): I will end the session and we'll see everyone next time.

Penny Williams (32:45): Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats at parentingadhdandautism.com.

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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  • Can you recommend good books that help with a 5 year old who has adhd most ones I fine deal with older children. She is not in school due to covid so would like some reading on dealing with her age group

    • Check out the website anovelmind.com. They have a database of books for kids with challenges and you can sort by categories, like ADHD.

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